Monday, July 16, 2012

The Roads We Follow; The Roads that End

NV Hwy 338. Where my journey began.
This weekend I went to Smith Valley, Nevada, to visit my mom who was celebrating her birthday. For those of you who don't know (and it's OK if you don't) Smith Valley is basically one of those places that is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest town is a quarter of gas tank away. The major industry is alfalfa farming with a sprinkle of cattle ranchers to make things interesting.

I'm not sure which one of us had the idea. It might have been me because I've been reading a lot about the Eastern Sierra these days and anything having to do with them has me fascinated. When I learned my mom's house is not "far" from Bridgeport, I decided-- or, proclaimed: "We should all ride there!"

Of course I should have realized this is Nevada and distances here are unique, as distances are in any place. I've gotten used to the way I can ride 80-90 miles in California, going up and down hills, through groves of oak or redwood or tall grasses. Roads meander in California. Roads go up, then down and then up again. You can't see 80 miles in front of you. Distances, therefore, are judged with time and effort... but certainly not with visual perception.

In Nevada (or so I've discovered in my two-week stay) roads tend to do one thing for a very long while. They go up.  And up. And up. Or they go straight. And keep going, going, going, going, going in a seemingly endless undulating landscape of low-lying brush framed by jagged mountains in either direction. Which is a nice way to say I don't know why the statement: "It's a straight climb for the first 15-miles" (spoken by my mom's husband) didn't dissuade me. Up at 5:30 am and on the road an hour later, I found myself riding West to Bridgeport, alone, on my Specialized Roubaix, recently adjusted to fit my short body.

I quickly found up for 15 miles was an understatement. From the starting point on the first paved road from the house, I would discover the climb was 19 miles to Sweetwater Summit, not 15. An added bonus: a special headwind (unusual since mornings are typically calm) made the 2,000 vertical effort more of an effort than it would have been.

I stopped at the sign announcing I'd reached the summit and sucked down a sport gel.

Then, it was down a winding road (not too winding, this is Nevada, remember? :-)  until mile 30 or so when I rode across the state line. I must have been excited: after I sipped a squirt of water, my bottle ended up in the willows lining the road and I had to go back and search for it.

The canyon was spectacular: cut by the East Walker, eventually I saw the jagged Sierra Range, still slightly snow capped and the sight alone pulled me forward, up another rise to Bridgeport reservoir and the town of Bridgeport itself.

In all, the ride was beautiful.

Canyons carved by river.
Valleys fed by unlikely sources of water to make green oases in the midst of a barren landscape.
And the thought, in the back of my mind, that this was all under an ocean, once.
Thoughts broken by a the smell of a cigar from a man fishing the East Walker River.

No one rode with me: I met my family in Bridgeport and we ate breakfast together at a cafe that honored my request to have no dairy.... amazing for a small town. Before they arrived, I bought a cup of coffee in a building that had once been the town jail.

I wish I'd been able to do the ride faster; maybe I will next time. I'm always wary when I'm on the road, alone. Maybe that makes me a bad athlete; or an out-of-shape one... but what a beautiful ride.

Scenes from one of the most beautiful places on earth, in my humble opinion:

River Road, Smith Valley.

A ranch off River Road, Smith Valley.

On the road to Bridgeport, near Wellington, NV.

It makes me want to be better... which is what sport is all about, really. You try to be your best each and every day. And what a best--- celebrating my mom's birthday with her in the place we are from. There's nothing better.

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